Arctic Port Study

Pilot overlooking Arctic ice

Scope of Work

The Alaska DOT&PF and the Army Corps of Engineers are co-sponsoring a three-year Alaska Deep Draft Arctic Ports Study to evaluate potential deepwater port locations. 

The Arctic coast is experiencing increased vessel traffic, a reason for concern for the State of Alaska and federal agencies.  An Alaskan Arctic port would serve as a major infrastructure asset and the northernmost port for the US Coast Guard (USCG), the US Navy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in protecting and patrolling an important US coastline.

Study efforts for 2012 include: defining the study area, identifying other agency efforts, evaluating public/private partnerships, examining problems and opportunities, establishing siting criteria, conducting scenario analysis, identifying potential sites, engaging stakeholders and communities, and rescoping study effort as needed for following years. 

Project Background

In 2008, the Alaska DOT&PF and the Alaska District Corps of Engineers held the first Alaska Regional Ports Conference bringing together 125 representatives from local, state, and federal government agencies, private transportation businesses, and tribal entities to share visions and concerns about Alaska’s waterways and infrastructure.

The overwhelming mandate was the need for a collaborative planning effort.  Following the 2008 Conference, the Alaska DOT&PF commissioned a large study of Alaska’s Regional Ports and Harbors which included a baseline assessment of infrastructure needs, strategic trends, regional hub identification, and policy and plan development. In 2010, a second conference was held to review progress and next steps. 

In May 16-17, 2011, DOT&PF and the Corps held a 2-day “Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Ports Planning Charrette” with federal, state, local, and industry representatives to start the process of joint planning for U.S. Arctic Ports in Alaska and addressing deep-draft port needs.  The Charrette participants helped shape the scope for the Alaska Deep Draft Arctic Ports Study.

Project Schedule

The Alaska Deep Draft Arctic Ports Study is a three-year effort. More detailed site investigations will occur in 2013 and 2014.

Graph showing tasks by monthThe project team will engage stakeholder groups throughout the process and build upon previous study and research efforts relating to the Arctic.Port Study area Kuskokwim River north to Canadian border and including all the Bering Sea islands

Study Area

For purposes of this Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Ports Planning Study, the planning team has narrowed the study area to the waters at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, including all of western and northern Alaska’s coastline.  

This area represents 3,626 miles of U.S. coastline, more than Maine to Key West which is 2,069 miles.  To the right is a map showing the project study area in yellow.

Based upon existing definitions of the Arctic as well as the comments from the May 2011 Deep-Draft Ports Planning Charrette, this specific study area was selected because it is the area most in need of deep-draft port development.

Currently, there are deep draft ports serving Anchorage, Seward, Valdez, Kodiak, Unalaska, and Homer, but none along Alaska’s Arctic coastline.

Project Update

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities partnered to study locations for an enhanced Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Ports System.  The 2013 results of the first year of the study are now available.  The Corps and the State established the foundation for this study in 2008 and 2010 and built on the good work of others such as the Northern Waters Task Force, the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, and workshops with the Institute of the North. 

Recommended in the 2013 report is an initial feasibility level study of the Nome/Port Clarence region to support vessel traffic and economic development in the Arctic.  All fourteen candidate sites noted in the study could benefit from enhanced marine infrastructure.  Though the area around Nome and Port Clarence will be the focus of this study going forward, additional sites could be evaluated independently or as funding becomes available.

Executive Summary PDF document

Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Ports Study (2013) (4.7MB)PDF document



Who is doing this study? This study is a collaborative effort between the USACE Alaska District and Alaska DOT&PF.  RISE Alaska, LLC has been contracted to facilitate, manage and develop work products related to this study.  A Project Development Team has been formed to produce this study.

Why do we need a deep-draft Arctic port? Our state and federal congressional leadership have highlighted several reasons why Alaska needs an Arctic port: maintaining sovereignty in light of increased Arctic traffic and activity; diversifying Alaska’s economy; Arctic Search and Rescue coverage/responsibility; and  protecting U.S. air, land and sea borders.

How will Alaska’s communities and stakeholders be involved in this planning process?There will be ongoing consultation with stakeholders throughout this project. We will also use input from the recent Northern Waters Task Force community meetings. 

 How will the design, construction and operation of the deep-draft Arctic port be funded? It is too soon to know. The Project Development Team is looking at a public-private partnership for design, construction, and operations as the most likely funding scenario. Study recommendations do not necessarily reflect the program and budgeting priorities inherent in the local, state and federal programs or the formulations of a national Civil Works water resources program. Consequently, the recommendations may be changed at higher review levels of the local, state and federal government.

Will anybody be able to use the port? When will the port be built?  The timing and access to the port will depend on the purpose of the specific port as well as the partnership to finance, build, and operate the port.  Port construction using public funds must stipulate public access.

 How can I learn more about previous efforts? Please click on the “Resources” links below to read more about the 2008/2010 Alaska Regional Ports Conferences and the May 2011 Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Ports Planning Charrette. 

How can I comment? Please send a comment directly to the Project Development Team for this study.  All comments will be reviewed and responded to in a timely manner and kept as part of the project record.



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